Working with a UX Design Team: Assumptions vs Reality

An illustration of a ux design team fishing a large wireframe out of the water. They're standing in a tiny boat next to an iceburg.

User Experience (UX) design is often misunderstood. Even the term “UX” itself is subject to heated debates and varying interpretations. So what does it mean to talk about UX design? And what should someone working with a UX design team expect?

When business leaders have recently begun working with (or are thinking about engaging with) an external UX design team, we often hear a few common misconceptions and assumptions about user experience design. We’ve broken down some of the most common misconceptions we hear to help ensure that everyone is speaking the same language and working toward the same goal.

Misconception 1: Why a product needs (or doesn’t need) UX design

Assumption

UX design will deliver a new interface for my product or website.

Reality

UX design teams help your business understand the end users — the people who use the product or service. Having an understanding of the users allows the entire team to empathize with those people, and (at the end of the day) create more powerful products in service of your user’s goals and processes.

At its core, UX design is about people. A good UX design team will talk to the people within the company (stakeholders) and the people who use their products (end users) to help understand everyone’s goals and identify ways in which the project can meet and exceed them. Often, this goes well beyond just redesigning a new interface, instead focusing on what the system or service actually offers, and how that can better align with what end users are doing in the real world.

Misconception 2: The involvement of the UX design team

Assumption

Business requirements get us 90% of the way to the end product. We just need a little “UX-ing” at the end to make users happy.

Reality

The UX design team is the most successful when it’s an integral part of the project from the very beginning.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to the user experience, and UX designers can’t simply swoop in to sprinkle a little UX pixie dust on a product or service. The product’s core offering, the process flows, and the larger ecosystem of products and tools are all a crucial part of a user’s end experience.

Allow your users’ wants and needs to drive the project from the very beginning by understanding what those needs are. UX researchers and designers observe and talk to end users, gather data, and use what they learn to drive requirements. This bottom-up, user-directed approach is more successful because it ensures a product that meets user needs.

Misconception 3: What makes up the UX design process

Assumption

UX design is moving pixels around the screen, organizing data, and supporting development.

Reality

UX designers seek to understand user intent, pain points, and joy, then design for users’ goals while reducing pain and increasing joy.

In talking to and observing people, a UX design team will discover what real users are doing during the day, and how the client’s product or service currently fits within their lives. The designers will investigate things users currently like, as well as things that frustrate them — not only in the product being designed, but also in the other tools they use, as these often represent opportunities for feature growth or, at the very least, patterns to avoid. Everything and everyone is interesting during UX research: you never know where you might uncover an insight that could change the whole direction of a project.

The Fuzzy Math UX design team at work

Misconception 4: How UX design teams approach projects

Assumption

UX designers listen to requirements, talk to a few people, then design.

Reality

Well, yes, but it’s a little more involved than that. UX designers and researchers learn, absorb, and synthesize as much information as we can, translate information into insights, and solve problems. Throughout the process, we collaborate with stakeholders and end users.

In UX design, requirements should be just the start of a conversation. UX designers will validate requirements against knowledge learned through UX research to make sure those requirements are addressing real needs. We then dig into those requirements with stakeholders to ensure we’re meeting them in the most optimal way. For both internal UX design teams and consulting teams, researching requirements within the company will help in understanding not only the project at hand, but also the greater company, so that the project is both meeting the short-term needs and also catalyzing future growth.

Misconception 5: What UX design teams produce

Assumption

UX designers produce updated user interfaces (UIs).

Reality

UX and UI are not one and the same. UX design teams produce a lot of stuff, including strategy, roadmaps, and (sometimes) updated UIs.

While a new UI is often one of our end deliverables, it’s just one of many usable artifacts of the UX design process. Through personas, experience maps, and other UX research documentation, a UX design team can help stakeholders understand and evangelize for their users throughout their organization. Conceptual design, storyboards, and feature roadmaps help explore larger-scale changes to improve users’ experience and often go well beyond UI redesigns. In many cases, these more strategic outputs can be the final project deliverable, helping to focus future projects and other organizational efforts. And of course, through wireframes, visual design comps, and front-end code, UX design can define the look and feel of the product.

“The wireframe and design are really the tip of the iceberg.”

Assumptions, Reality, and Fuzzy Math

Through our engagements with clients, we’ve worked with teams that have dedicated UX resources and deep existing design knowledge, teams who have no in-house design, and everyone in between. For those without UX resources, our goal is always not only to help get the best results on a project, but also evangelize UX processes and methodology throughout the organization. As the former CTO of Fieldglass, one of our longest-tenured clients, Sean Chou saw this process unfold firsthand: “To truly engage Fuzzy Math, we needed to first understand and embrace the UX process. Coming from a more traditional design approach, we learned that the wireframe and design are really the tip of the iceberg. Underneath what you see is the customer-focused work such as personas, process flows, interviewing customers, and workshops. It’s the solid foundation that is unseen that not only represents the majority of the work and value, but also represents the underpinnings that keep what is seen afloat.”

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At the end of the day, a UX design team can do more than just provide a refresh to your website — by understanding and empathizing with the user’s end needs, and allowing those needs to drive the direction of a product, a good UX team can provide value and insight across the board. Whether you’re seeking to add experience and speed to your internal design team by partnering with an external UX design team, or you’re brand new to the concept of UX design, don’t let misconceptions and assumptions block you from working towards a greater strategic goal and creating a product that meets your users’ end needs.

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